The Truth on Macronutrients, Part III: The Skinny on Fats

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I really feel sorry for fats. They are still getting blamed for fat gain despite having a vital role to play in your health and even fat loss. Your body needs fat to function properly, the same way it needs protein and carbohydrates.

 

Let’s have a look at what it is…

 

Fat is a term for anything that consists of a heterogeneous collection of chemically related substances.

 

Without getting too specific on the chemistry, this means a fatty acid. A fatty acid is made up of a long chain of carbon atoms on which hydrogen atoms are attached.

 

You’ve probably heard of some of the types of fat

 

The main difference between the types of fat is the amount of saturation. This refers to the amount of hydrogen atoms attached to the chain. If all the space is occupied, we call them saturated fatty acids. If less than the maximal amount is occupied, we can them unsaturated.

 

Following so far? Good.

 

Fatty acids that are unsaturated result from a chemical structure called a double bond. One double bond in the fatty acid results in what is called a “monounsaturated fatty acid”.

 

If there is more than one bond, we refer to it as a polyunsaturated fatty acid.

 

This might seem heavy, however it’s important because of the way saturation affects the fat, which to some extend, will determine how it is then used in your body.

 

Before we go any further, let’s look at why we need fat.

 

What does fat do?

 

Fat is an integral component of the plasma membrane of every cell in the body.

 

This will affect the quality and degree of signaling across the membrane—which is vital. Cellular responses to hormones, nutrient absorption, and discharge of waste all require activity at the membrane level.

 

Fat is also:

  • Important for helping to form the barrier to water in the skin;
  • Critical component of nerves which are coated with fat. This coating serves to speed up conduction down the nerve.
  • The substrate for a whole set of hormones known as eicosanoids. These are essential for blood pressure regulation, inflammation, blood clotting, and labor.

 

So as you can see, fat has a place in our diets and a major role to play in basic physiology.

 

Some fats can be manufactured within the body, as they’re required. However, the problem is that not all the necessary fats can be produced.

 

What are the types of fat:

 

MONOUNSATURATED FAT

Found in:

  • High fat fruits, such as avocados
  • Pistachios, almonds, walnuts, and cashews
  • Olive oil

 

What do they do?

  • Help lower bad cholesterol
  • Help raise good cholesterol
  • Helps to help fight weight gain
  • May even help reduce body fat levels

 

POLYUNSATURATED FAT

Found in:

  • Salmon
  • Fish oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Seeds
  • Soy

 

What do they do?

  • Fight bad cholesterol.

 

EFA’s

You may have heard of “good fats” in the media. There is a subset of dietary fatty acids, specifically linoleic acid (known as omega-6) and alpha linoleic acid (known as omega-3)

 

These are referred to as Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) which means it’s necessary to either consume them in food or through supplements.

 

If something is essential, it refers to the fact that these CANNOT be manufactured in the body. So eating them becomes essential.

So because these cannot be manufactured, you need to make sure you’re consuming enough in your diet.

 

SATURATED FAT

 

No matter what you have heard about saturated fat, there are some positive aspects.

 

Found in:

  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Red meat
  • Some seafood.

 

What do they do?

Saturated fat gets a lot bad press. The main reason for the bad press was from a very poorly performed study, from a guy named Ancel Keys. The whole anti-sat-fat movement can be traced back to one study of his in the 1950’s. Keys’ wrote a paper that claimed the increate in heart disease can be solely blamed on dietary fat.

 

Specifically, saturated fats.

 

If you look a little closer, there were major flaws to his work:

 

  • Keys’ only used data from a small portion of the countries where data was available. Now that scientists have reviewed the data, there was no link between fat consumption and heart disease deaths.
  • Blaming of fat intake for heart disease was only one factor  considered. There was no consideration of other factors such as stress, smoking, sugar, macros, exercise and activity levels, and other lifestyle issues.

 

In retrospect, it seems that Keys’ jumped the gun here. He drew on conclusions that didn’t really have any solid evidence.

 

Unfortunately for us, Keys’ study has been cited for over 50 years as “fact”

 

What about cholesterol?

 

Saturated fat still gets blamed for cholesterol. Cholesterol is not as scary as the media, and perhaps even your doctor, make it out to be.

 

Cholesterol actually acts as an antioxidant on free radicals. It’s also necessary for the production of hormones that help to fight against heart disease.

 

While saturated fat can’t exactly be put on a superfood list, it’s not something to be overly concerned about if it’s consumed in reasonable doses.

 

TRANS FAT

Trans fats are the black sheep of the family. They’re found in fried foods, chips, bakery pastries and cookies.

 

Most trans fats are man made. With most things, some moderation is fine.

 

As for energy: fat (all types) yields 9 calories per gram.

 

Where can we find fat? 

 

▪   Nuts, but butters, avocado fattier cuts of meat

▪   MCT oil, coconut & coconut oil, canola oil, flax oil, fish oil & olive oil

▪   Full fat dairy products

 

NOTE: Here is a quick link jump to the entire series:

The Truth on Macros Part I: The Power of Protein 

The Truth on Macros Part II: Give up carbs? Over my bread body! 

The Truth on Macros Part III: The Skinny on Fats